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FINANCIAL

Fraud trial captivates local Swedish community

Disgruntled savers from a small Swedish community flooded into a Jönköping court on Thursday to follow the case of Habo Finans, an investment firm which folded taking the savings of almost 780 people with it.

Fraud trial captivates local Swedish community
Habo Finans CEO Peter Rosendahl arrives at Jönkoping district court on Thursday

Launched in 1995 by former welder Peter Rosendahl, Habo Finans later ran into difficulties in 2006 before filing for bankruptcy in 2008. Rosendahl now faces charges of serious fraud and serious accounting fraud, while the remaining five board members are accused of serious accounting fraud.

The case has attracted a great deal of interest in the small Swedish community of Habo, which was voted the “best place to live in Sweden” by Fokus magazine in 2010, as many local residents had invested with Rosendahl and Habo Finans in the hope of high returns.

A total of 780 savers are claiming 90 million kronor ($13.4 million) from the bankrupt firm, which is reported to have only 30 million kronor in assets.

Many of the savers had invested their life savings in the firm, which was shown to lack sufficient bank guarantees, or a licence from the Financial Supervisory Authority (Finansinspektionen – FI) to conduct trading in shares.

“I invested because acquaintances had done so and had earned dividends of 25-30 percent,” said local Habo resident Bernt Olof Berntsson.

“Unfortunately it was at the cost of the later savers that they made money.”

Shortly after the firm ran into difficulties, Peter Rosendahl turned himself in to Gothenburg police. Since the bankruptcy, Rosendahl has been in hiding from the former friends, neighbours and clients who had trusted his judgement on the stock market.

Until he was was tracked down recently by TV4’s Kalla Fakta investigative news programme.

”The worst is when I go to bed at night, I can’t relax. But that is something I will have to live with it for the rest of my life,” Rosendahl told TV4.

“It doesn’t help the customers affected, but it is a way to work through it. I go through the client list again and again.”

Rosendahl was working as a welder in a local Habo company in the 1990s when he developed a name for himself as something of a successful amateur share trader and decided in the mid-1990s to start a financial services firm.

”Despite the fact that I was just an ordinary metalworker, the men from the office, and everybody started to talk shares with me. It was a nice time,” he said.

Habo Finans was set up with the initial intention to invest in Ericsson stock, Rosendahl said, and within a year the firm had proven popular with local residents.

”When I arrived in the morning, and people stood queuing, when I looked at the diary there were so many customers who wanted to become new investors, it was not so easy to put a stop to it,” he said, reflecting on the firm’s rapid growth.

Another local investor Roger Moll told TV4 that for several years everyone in the community was talking about the firm.

“A lot of friends recommended it – it was not quite a sect, but it was very big,” he told TV4.

But when some more risky investments turned sour, and clients began to withdraw their savings, the firm used new client funds to fill the hole in the accounts, ultimately forcing the firm’s closure.

Bernt Olof Berntsson heads a group of investors who, aside from their demands on the bankrupted firm, are claiming damages from Habo Finans’s accountants, who they claim had not fulfilled their obligations.

The case is one of the largest of its kind in Swedish history and 18 investors are scheduled to testify in the month-long trial in Jönköping District Court. Interest in the trial is so great that the court has hired a nearby cinema in order to broadcast the proceedings live.

If convicted, Peter Rosendahl is facing a prison sentence of up to 12 years, but told TV4 that he welcomes the trial in order to clear the air.

”It can’t be any worse than it is now. To live in secret, to hardly be able to go out during the day…” he said.

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MONEY

What happens if you don’t pay a bill in Sweden?

Sweden's Enforcement Authority is responsible for collecting unpaid debts, fines, and declarations of bankruptcy. So, what happens if an unpaid bill reaches the Enforcement Authority, and can you do anything if you have a black mark on your record?

What happens if you don't pay a bill in Sweden?

What happens when you have a bill?

Usually, if you have a bill in Sweden, you will receive an invoice (faktura) either digitally or via post, which will include details such as the amount owed, who to pay and the date payment is due (förfallodatum).

If you don’t pay the invoice in time, the person you owe money to may turn the case over to inkasso, or a debt collection agency, who will again send you an invoice for payment, plus the agency’s fee.

If this invoice goes unpaid, the Enforcement Authority will get involved.

The Swedish Enforcement Authority, Kronofogden in Swedish, is responsible for collecting unpaid debts. It does this by providing advice and support to those who are unable to pay their debts, as well as helping creditors – such as, for example, landlords whose tenants have not paid their rent.

The debt collection agency will pass unpaid bills on to them, and you may receive a betalningsanmärkning or black mark on your credit record.

Before you receive a black mark, however, you will first receive an ansökan om betalningsföreläggande from the Enforcement Authority. If you pay this in time, your debt will not be registered as a betalningsanmärkning.

There are some types of payment where you can receive a betalningsanmärkning without the bill going through a debt collection agency first. These are usually payments owed to the state, such as unpaid tax, unpaid student loan repayments or unpaid municipal parking fees.

You are unlikely to come into contact with the Enforcement Authority unless you miss or forget to pay a bill.

What happens if you get a black mark?

A black mark can have pretty major consequences – it can stop you from hiring a car, getting a credit card, borrowing money (including getting a mortgage), taking out a phone contract or even renting an apartment, as well as barring you from ordering anything on credit or paying via invoice.

This is due to the fact that whenever you apply for a loan or credit in Sweden, the lender will check your credit score (kreditupplysning) to see if there is any risk of you not paying up. Many lenders have a strict policy on not lending to individuals with black marks on their credit score to minimise risk, no matter whether the mark is due to an unpaid phone bill or a missed mortgage repayment.

How can I check if I have one?

You can check if you have a black mark by contacting a credit check company – here is a list of all credit check companies in Sweden. Some may charge a small fee for the service, whereas others offer it for free.

One advantage of checking your own credit score before contacting a lender is that your credit score is not affected when you carry out a check on yourself. 

If, however, a bank carries out a credit check on you, this can affect your credit score – it’s usually not an issue if you carry out one or two checks, but a lot of checks in a short period of time could cause issues.

Can you do anything to remove it?

Unfortunately, no. 

All you can do is wait – a black mark will disappear from your record after three years for private individuals or five years for businesses. 

The best strategy is to avoid getting a black mark on your record in the first place – such as by paying your bills via autogiro (direct debit), keeping an eye on your post (as well as your digital post), and paying for items up-front if possible to avoid invoices, rather than using “buy now, pay later” credit services such as Klarna or Clearpay.

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